In his younger days, Bob Lee conquered continents. But as the 84-year-old Nevadan shuffled slowly to the podium in a federal courtroom today, his vitality seemed as lifeless as the big game he used to fell.
Lee, a safari guide, conservationist and outfitter, was sentenced for grabbing the breast of a paramedic who accompanied him on a medical flight to the Mayo Clinic in September 2010. When she complained, he told her, "I can do whatever I want. This is my airplane."
As U.S. Chief Magistrate Arthur Boylan told Lee when he sentenced him, there was no excuse -- not old age, not infirmity, not dementia -- for the crime Lee committed.
"It's arrogant, it's repugnant and it's offensive, period," Boylan told Lee.
Lee pleaded guilty in July to a single misdemeanor count of assault and could've faced up to six months in jail. Boylan accepted a sentence that both sides negotiated: Lee will be on probation for 180 days, he was fined $5,000 and ordered to pay at least $431 restitution, and he must write a letter of apology to the paramedic and nurse he assaulted and threatened aboard his Gulfstream Aerospace G-1159A.
He must spend 30 days of his probation on home detention. In his case, home is a 6,091-square-foot, $1.2-million residence on 10.2 acres with its own lake about 7 miles south of downtown Reno. He also owns a $25 million mansion on an island on Flathead Lake in Montana.
In fact, he owns the island.
The paramedic he assaulted, identified in court as "M.L.," had agreed to the plea bargain and sentence. The woman, dressed in a blue AeroCare Air Ambulance jumpsuit, sat next to Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Provinzino during the proceedings, but took a turn at the podium to tell Boylan how Lee's behavior harmed her.
"I'm offended ... (that) he felt he had the right to do whatever he wanted with me," she said. She was particularly critical of Lee's claim to a psychiatrist that the women "were mean to me" and had shoved him, which the women denied. Lee later recanted the claim.
As M.L. spoke, sometimes through tears, it seemed evident Lee's words had added to the sting of his actions.
"Not only does he have the audacity to believe he can do whatever he wants on his airplane, now he has the audacity to insult my integrity," the woman said.
Lee has been described as an avid explorer and he's also a writer, conservationist and safari guide. Under the name Hunting World, he had a line of safari-ready luggage sold at its own posh boutique in New York. (He later sold the company.)
Lee claims to have led expeditions in 17 countries, and his luggage catalogs often depicted him in some remote and exotic corner of the globe.
For his part, Lee said nothing during the hearing except, "No thank you, Your Honor, please," when Boylan asked him if he had anything to say before sentencing. But his lawyer, Scott Freeman of Reno, read a letter of apology he said Lee had written.
"It was inappropriate and I accept responsibility for my actions," the letter said, among other things.
"This is, without a doubt, an aberration. He is not a gentleman who goes around doing this sort of thing," Freeman said of Lee. "Everyone is shocked by this behavior."
Indeed, before sentencing, Freeman filed 13 letters literally from coast to coast from people who said Lee was a great guy. The writers included a state lawmaker, a minister, a former federal prosecutor, an executive at Sotheby's auction house, a California vintner, business executives and Lee's personal fitness trainer since 2004.
"In my experience with Mr. Lee I find the incident in question to be highly out of character for him," wrote the trainer, Melissa Zeffer, of Stateline, Nev. "I have spent a lot of time with Mr. Lee and I think that he is a very polite, dignified, respectful and nice man."
That was not the behavior M.L. told Boylan she saw during the flight Sept. 21, 2010. She recounted how she was called after Lee wound up in the emergency room with a medical problem and decided to get an examination at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
She said she and a nurse, identified in court documents as "M.D.," boarded Lee's $37 million jet at the airport in Show Low, Ariz., for the 1,100-mile flight to Rochester, and that it was uneventful -- Lee had even fallen asleep reading a newspaper -- until the last 45 minutes.
M.L. said when Lee returned from using the lavatory, he came up to her and grabbed her right breast, pinching and twisting hard. She pushed his hand away and told him he wasn't to touch her like that.
"He looked me straight in the eye and said I was on his airplane, he could do whatever he wanted to me," she told the judge.
He then reached across the aisle and made a pinching gesture at M.D., telling her, "That's what I'm going to do to you."
She told him he wasn't allowed to touch the medical personnel in that way, and he replied, "On my airplane, I can do whatever I want."
Lee also told the nurse she should wear a V-neck shirt to make it easier for him to slide his hand in her shirt.
When the plane returned to Nevada after dropping Lee off, M.L. told the FBI about the assault. It was considered a federal crime because it occurred aboard an airplane flying over the territorial U.S.
Freeman told Boylan that Lee was in the "beginning stages of dementia," but the judge said he didn't believe "dementia or the fact you're a senior" were excuses for the crime.
He said he was adding the 30 days of home detention to the sentence so Lee would feel, in some way, the same feeling of being trapped that the paramedic and nurse said they felt aboard Lee's private jet.
"I wanted you to get the message that you can't treat people like that," Boylan said.
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